EMMETT SPARLING
PhotoPlus : The Canon Magazine|September 2021
Is there anything that Emmett Sparling can’t shoot? He’s captured fashion models, luxury cars, remote mountain ranges, and even whales. Keith Wilson tries to keep up with this prodigious mover from Vancouver…
Keith Wilson

LISTENING to Emmett Sparling’s story and looking at his portfolio, you might think he is a young man in a hurry. The self-taught photographer has already worked professionally in fashion, travelled extensively to shoot landscapes and cultural portraits, won commissions from blue chip brands to photograph cars, beer, airlines and hotel rooms, as well as produce videos for big ad campaigns. On top of this, the Vancouver-based photographer is a budding film-maker with aspirations to direct feature-length movies. And did I mention his underwater photography? Yes, Emmett has even found time to learn freediving, so he can swim with whales. All this and he’s still only 22! Given what he’s packed into his life and career so far, you might think he’s perhaps a restless, hyperactive, fast-talking social media influencer, wanting to race through our time as quickly as possible. On the contrary, Emmett comes across as a very chilled and quietly spoken individual who speaks as he might when meeting a long-absent friend for a drink in his local bar. This is your round Emmett…

01 EYE IN THE SKY

Emmett used a combination of fast shutter speed and fast timing to capture this helicopter, with its rotor blades frozen, over the centre of the famous Great Blue Hole, in the Lighthouse Reef, Belize

Lens Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Exposure 1/1250 sec, f/4.5, ISO200

02 MODEL BEGINNINGS

One of Emmett’s early fashion photos, which gave him his first break in professional photography

Lens Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Exposure 1/4000 sec, f/2.8, ISO160

03 MOUNTAIN VIEW

Two mountaineers picked out sharply by the early morning sun in late September as they walk a snow-covered ridge in the French Alps near Chamonix, France

Lens Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

Exposure 1/1250 sec, f/7.1, ISO100

04 RAINBOW MOUNTAIN

It took a 4-day trek to reach this summit view in the Peruvian Andes, which shows how the Rainbow Mountain got its name

Lens Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art

Exposure 4 secs, f/2.2, ISO100

So, where did it all start?

I started when I first picked up a camera. I was doing macro photography, just wandering around my back garden and trying to find bugs and stuff, then eventually taking picture of my friends. My first professional gigs, where I was making money, was doing events and headshots, just being paid a couple of hundred bucks to take photos of an event.

Was there any sort of formal training or education?

No, it was learning as I went along and saving all of my money to get my next camera and a new lens. A couple of years later I took some photos of my friend who is a professional model, and she showed those photos to her agency and the agency really liked them. They reached out and started hiring me for test shoots and editorial work. That took off, but as Vancouver is not a big fashion scene, that helped me because I could get to become a medium-sized fish in a small pond! I got fairly well known in the Vancouver fashion model agency space, which isn’t saying much actually.

What sort of work were you doing?

I did editorial fashion for two years professionally. I was doing a shoot every single day with a new model every day, and I did a bit of work down in LA shooting the winner of America’s Next Top Model, and some other models down there. After two years of doing that it feels pretty repetitive, you have the same ideas, and you find new ways of executing the same ideas, or just creating spins on the same idea, and it doesn’t feel like anything new.

I guess there wasn’t much variety in locations either. Were you stuck in the studio a lot of the time?

Oh, absolutely. It became very tedious, exactly the same locations all the time. Then there’s the whole ego aspect where everyone in the fashion industry has an agenda and they all think they’re more important than you. Yeah, a lot of strange, interesting characters in the fashion industry! So, I saved up a bit of money, decided to drop everything and go backpacking through Mexico for four months! Then I flew from Mexico to Indonesia, and I went backpacking there for four or five months as well.

Brilliant! When was this?

This was the very beginning of 2017. When I was in Mexico I was with other backpackers, but they weren’t photographers, so if I wanted to wake up for sunrise to take a photo of a mountain, they’d be like, “What? Why the hell don’t we just go at noon or something?” So, for a while it was hard getting any photos.

Frustrating. What did you do?

When I flew to Indonesia, I reached out to some friends through Instagram, as we’d been chatting about travelling around Bali, so we met up and travelled together. That was a huge learning curve as you get way better at photography when you’re bouncing ideas off one another and teaching each other on trips. You also have someone to get up with for sunrise for crazy photo missions!

Then you came back to Vancouver, but were soon off again…

I got back to Vancouver completely out of money, so I went back to shooting corporate videos, but I thought, “This is so boring, I can’t do this forever.” One of the contacts that I met in Mexico reached out and hired me to shoot a video of a tour company going through the Czech Republic, so I did that job for them and as I kept posting on Instagram I kept getting more and more opportunities.

Then when I went to Peru at the very end of 2017, the Rainbow Mountain at sunrise photos from that trip really took off, because I figured out my style a bit more and I had a better sense of editing landscape photos.

What happened in Peru that made such a difference?

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